As we begin reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible it is important for you to understand the historical context of the play. Though we are currently studying the Puritan period, we will be jumping forward in time about 250 years to Modernism to examine Miller’s allegorical play. Set during the Puritan period, The Crucible is actually about the communist red scare and McCarthyism of the 1950’s – it does however work well as an examination of the shift in culture that was happening the Puritan American in the late 1600’s.
McCarthyism and the second Red Scare began after the end of WWII (the first Red Scare actually began in 1919) at the hands of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Under his direction, America was swept up in a mass hysteria surrounding Communism and the fear that Soviet spies and sympathizers were plotting to take over the United States through the channels of government, the media and education. Thousands of Americans were falsely accused, blacklisted, and trailed – some faced unemployment, imprisonment, or executions. “McCarthyism” soon took on a broader meaning, describing the reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character or patriotism of political adversaries or social outsiders.
Below you will find links to the podcast over McCarthyism, which you should listen to before we begin
reading and analyzing The Crucible.
The Crucible is a 1953 play by the American playwright Arthur Miller. It is a dramatized and partially
fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Province of Massachusetts Bay during 1692 and 1693. Miller wrote the play as an allegory of McCarthyism, when the U.S. government
blacklisted accused communists. Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities in 1956 and convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify others present at meetings he had attended.
The word “crucible” is contextually defined as a container in which metals or other substances are subjected to high temperatures. Each character is metaphorically a metal subjected to the heat of the surrounding situation.